I bet you already know a few weight-loss industry lies.
Little oopsies like “fat makes you fat” or “sugar-free cookies taste great and are less filling!”
So you’re aware of the fact that even self-proclaimed gurus are wrong every once and a while. They probably didn’t mean to mislead you, right?
But there’s another set of lies that are trickier to identify. These weight-loss lies are the very fabric of the diet culture we live in.
And challenging them might get you called out as a heretic. Or at least as someone who’s “really let herself go.”
Because here’s the thing. The diet industry needs you to believe these lies and accept them as fact. Because without these core beliefs, the entire industry could fall apart.
And I think that’s a great reason to do a little myth busting. Once you’re aware of these core lies, you can start to challenge the status quo and reclaim your freedom around food, your body, and your health.
So let’s get down to the juicy lies!
1. Eating is Complicated
When you’ve been dieting for a while, it starts to feel like eating is hard. And it’s partially true because diets are complicated.
Even if you’re following more of a “lifestyle change” (a diet in disguise – but that’s for another day), there’s still a big list of dos and don’ts to follow. And with some more restrictive diets, you may find yourself Googling ingredients on your phone in the middle of the grocery aisle.
And everything feels complicated when you have to pull out your food scale, diet-approved tupperware, and MyFitnessPal before taking a single bite.
Of course, the most complicated thing about dieting is how quickly things change. Remember when you were avoiding butter and using margarine spray instead? (Sure you do, that stuff was magical). But now you’re blending grass-fed butter into your morning coffee…
New food demons come and go. And just like that, your perfectly healthy diet is killing you now. Good thing health experts are around to write a new set of diet rules to sell!
Eating can seem complicated and downright scary when you don’t know who to trust. But when you walk away from meal plans and diet books, it turns out things aren’t actually that difficult.
Bust the Myth: Eating can be effortless!
You already know the basics of nutrition. You can decide for yourself whether a sugar-free pudding cup is healthier than a banana (yes, these are the kinds of debates that happen in the health and wellness world).
Real food is hard to sell. In the eyes of the weight-loss industry, a banana is just plain boring. It’s advantageous to create new products that can bear the gluten-free/sugar-free/GMO-free label.
So ignore all the food rules and forbidden ingredients. Don’t let fear-mongering diets convince you that fruit is bad if that’s what you want to eat.
Start eating what you want to eat instead of what you should eat. There isn’t just one way to eat, and I encourage you to be skeptical of anyone who makes eating seem complicated.
Eating is easy once you let yourself enjoy it again.
2. You Can’t Trust Your Body
If any of the points above made you feel uncomfortable, it’s probably because you think you’re out of control around food.
So many women truly, unquestioningly believe that. And I believed it too, not so long ago.
I knew that if I bought cookies I’d eat the whole box (turns out that’s not true, I frequently eat just 2 small cookies out of a box). And I knew that if I bought ice cream I’d eat it out of the pint (which was true when I was trying to eat 1,000 calories per day, but now I frequently help myself to a normal portion in a bowl).
I also knew that if I got hungry I should just ignore it. I mean, MyFitnessPal said I was out of calories for the day, so I must not actually be hungry, right? Clearly, according to science, I had eaten plenty. (Hm, wonder why I was eating that late-night pint of ice cream.)
When we think we can’t trust our own bodies, we have to find someone or something else to trust. That’s when we turn to the gurus, apps, and boring meal plans and just let them tell us what to eat.
And when a sensation in your body (hunger or lack of satisfaction) is at odds with the Guru, you start to doubt yourself. You start to question if you’re doing something wrong or maybe you need a new diet to follow.
It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more you doubt your own body and intuition, the more you’ll rely on diets. And the more you rely on diets, the more disconnected you become from your own feelings and body.
Bust the Myth: Your body is smarter than you think!
You are not out of control around food. Shake the overplayed stereotype of a woman bingeing on a pint of ice cream because that mindset is holding you back.
Moving past this requires you to trust yourself. It requires you to truly believe that you and your body are smarter than the ads, the apps, and the army of Facebook experts.
You have to be gentle and give yourself permission to eat what you want. And if that’s stressing you out, I can assure you you won’t want pizza and ice cream in massive portions for the rest of your life.
Your body will start to crave the foods that make it feel good. And, yes, maybe even the foods that bring you pleasure. Because your body is way smarter than you think. You just have to stop and check-in with it every once and a while.
3. You Need to Lose Weight
The pressure for women to lose weight is everywhere.
It’s not just the big budget commercials for Weight Watchers and magazine spreads for celeb detoxes either.
It’s the way someone looks at an overweight coworker with “concern” or the look you get from a girlfriend when you order fries instead of a side salad.
The expectation is that a woman should want to lose weight. Whether it’s to look a little more pleasing in a bikini or “to be a more responsible role model” for her children.
But even as the diet industry has started to shy away from “you need to diet to be skinny,” there’s been an increase of “you need to lose weight to be healthy.”
But your weight is not the only indicator of your health. And despite all of the messages out there that going on a diet is the answer, there are plenty of other ways to improve your health.
The reality is that the majority of those who do manage to lose weight through diet regain it within a few years. So attempting to diet in the name of “health” (especially if constant dieting and restricting is wreaking havoc on your mental health) may be more of a struggle than the ads suggest.
And, no, I’m not accusing your doctors, family members, or even some well-meaning celebrity trainers of trying to deceive you.
Linda Bacon addresses this concern in her Health at Every Size Manifesto:
I do not believe that those engaging in this damaging paradigm are part of a widespread conspiracy. We are all raised with the assumption that fat is bad and permanent weight loss can be achieved through dietary change and exercise. These assumptions are so strongly a part of our cultural landscape that they are regarded as self-evident, and few even consider questioning them. As a result, many well-intentioned, caring people unknowingly collude and transmit this cultural bias.
Bust the Myth: Health is not a number!
It’s ok to want to lose weight. But it’s also ok not to want to lose weight.
I’m just asking you to be willing to challenge the assumption. To question (possibly for the first time) if fighting your body for the sake of a goal weight is worthwhile. And if so, to consider whether your weight-loss efforts are improving your overall health.
You could try setting goals for your health that are independent of your weight (Walk every day. Eat more greens). Or you could find a weight-loss goal that’s more realistic than “be the size I was in high school.”
For me, challenging my desire to lose weight was radically freeing. After gaining and losing the same 20 pounds for nearly a decade, I realized that the mental toll of constant calorie counting just wasn’t worth it. My life has improved greatly without the fruitless battle for weight control. I’ve settled in at my body’s natural set point and I feel healthier than I ever have.
The Power of Self-Trust
Your best tool for challenging these lies is the ability to trust yourself. When you trust yourself, you:
- Accept that you can eat what you want (and not choke down food you’re “supposed” to eat)
- Realize that you know your own body better than a TV doctor (especially when he’s selling supplements)
- Can decide for yourself if you want to lose weight (and choose not to without shame)
You have the power to accept your own body and be responsible for your health and happiness. Don’t let anyone undermine that and erode your self-trust just so they can sell you another diet.